Cloud Nine. Bliss. Ivory Wave. They sound harmless, but represent the latest drug wave to sweep the nation… synthetic designer drugs. Known on the street as bath salts, plant food, or potpourri, they are chemically manufactured in laboratories and designed to imitate the effects of illegal drugs like cocaine, meth, and ecstasy, but shockingly can often be legally purchased at smoke shops and convenience stores. As their popularity grows, so does the debate about their dangerous effects. Tales of cannibalism, superhuman strength, and excessive violence have been reported in the news and posted all over Youtube. Are synthetics the future of drugs in America?
In this episode of Inside: Secret America, investigative journalists Mariana van Zeller and Darren Foster explore the synthetic drug craze in America. They will dive deep into this scary world with addicts and health professionals to find out why this bizarre new drug is so appealing to some while considered so dangerous by others. And they will go undercover with Law Enforcement agencies to see if this new breed of narcotics can be shut down by regulation, or if the manufactures and distributors are already too far ahead of the law.
Mariana and Darren travel to Louisiana, where the first cases of bath salts in the US were reported. Their first stop is the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, where Mariana joins undercover officers on a “buy bust.” The officer tells Mariana that they’re constantly trying to shut local manufacturers and distributors down, but it is difficult because the chemicals used are constantly changing and the law cannot keep up.
Mariana then visits with Dr. Corey Hebert of Tulane University Medical Center, who tells her that synthetic drugs are the most dangerous thing he has witnessed as a doctor. At the LSU Health Sciences Center, Dr. Russell R. Russo, who treated the first known case of a person who contracted a flesh-eating virus from injecting bath salts, shares the tragic and morbid tale.
Why have synthetic drugs become so popular so quickly? Mariana and Darren visit with some former and currently active Marines in San Diego, who share their stories of synthetic drug abuse and explain that these types of drugs do not show up on standard drug tests. Mariana then goes undercover with the Marines to local head shops to see how easy it is for someone to buy synthetic marijuana and bath salts.
Back in Louisiana, Mariana and Darren meet with an owner of a smoke shop who openly sells aromatic sachets which he claims are not for human consumption and perfectly legal. If it’s easy to sell, how easy is it to make? Mariana tracks down a clandestine chemist, who has agreed to talk as long as his identity is kept secret. He makes synthetic marijuana out of his house, and gives Mariana a full demonstration of how he manufactures his own special blend.
Is there anything law enforcement can do to keep synthetic drugs off the streets? Through their contacts, Mariana and Darren learn the DEA is planning a major bust of synthetic drug manufactures and join them on a huge raid. Though their raid is successful, they know they are constantly playing catch up when it comes to synthetic drug laws – essentially a game of whack-a-mole. When one chemical is banned, another new one pops up.
What is the future of these drugs and how will law enforcement and government officials be able to stop the next wave of legal drugs before it starts? America’s war on drugs has clearly entered a new day.
July 10, 2013
Meg Gleason | National Geographic
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Bath Salts and Synthetics: Investigating America’s New War on Drugs